REVIEW: Keep It For Yourself [1991]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: NR | Runtime: 40 minutes | Release Date: 1991 (USA)
Studio: Good Machine
Director(s): Claire Denis
Writer(s): Claire Denis

“I am in your hands”

Writer/director Claire Denis was commissioned to create a short film for an omnibus in 1991 meant to showcase the new Nissan Figaro. Besides including the car in the narrative, she had carte blanche as far as how, why, or what else. The result is Keep It for Yourself, a virtually plot-less adventure of a French woman (Sophie Simon) left alone in New York City after the man she’s visiting leaves town the day before she arrives. He set her up with an apartment to sleep in while away, but nothing else. So she passes the time buying food, smoking cigarettes, and meeting strangers (Sara Driver) who worry about her lack of a hat in the cold weather. And while she waits, some unexpected drama knocks on the door.

It takes the form of E.J. Rodriguez: an empathetic Spanish-speaking immigrant who thought his night would end after bringing soup to a friend working late at a tow shop. This is where the Figaro appears as Vito Brown (Vincent Gallo) sees it up on a flatbed from behind the fence before pulling a gun on E.J. and his buddy to take it off and drive him to a prospective buyer. The sequence is a wild departure from Sophie’s otherwise meandering travels and comes quite literally out of nowhere to conveniently spark a collision of characters once the police chase E.J. to her apartment. Will she help him? Send him away? Let him spend the night while waiting for the police to leave? Or make passionate love to him?

If things have already escalated from a foreigner stuck in a strange land drinking coffee and eating pancakes to armed robbery and police pursuits, what’s to stop it from going even further? Add the unexpected return of Sophie’s “boyfriend”—the host who abandoned her—and fireworks could definitely explode if Denis chose to go that route. But in a short film about a Japanese car coveted enough by Americans to buy and steal, perhaps it’s better to let Sophie choose the object of her affection like that car never could instead. The whole becomes a sort of “treat yourself” escapade wherein Sophie allows herself to do, eat, and take whatever will make her happy. It doesn’t matter why she came to America, only how she enjoys her stay.

While this version of things comes off a bit frivolous insofar as keeping characters generally pleasant and helpful (even Gallo’s Vito is a surprisingly warm guy who couldn’t be bothered to kill someone when victims are more useful as consumers of his wares), you do wonder what Denis could have created with feature length time and budget. That she put so much personality into a veritable commercial (that was lost until now with only a Japanese-subtitled VHS copy available to preserve) is commendable, though. It’s funny, endearing, and cutely fantastical in its happy endings—a throwaway lark that Denis admits let her “discover an ease and facility [in filmmaking] that I did not think I had.”

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